Region’s economic development efforts all about being well connected

The marketing slogan of the I-77 Alliance is “We’re well connected,” touting the South Carolina counties along the interstate near Charlotte, Columbia, the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, Columbia Metropolitan Airport and the port of Charleston.

On Friday, Rich Fletcher, president and CEO of the alliance, and David Swenson, executive director of York County Economic Development, tried to connect with the county’s business community when they spoke to a sell-out crowd of about 140 community leaders at the City Club in downtown Rock Hill.

For many attending the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce’s “Economic Development Power Luncheon,” it was the first time to meet the new economic development leaders, who both started in late September. Fletcher is the first president and CEO of the alliance, which is in its start-up phase. Swenson replaced longtime York County economic development director Mark Farris, who resigned last summer to become director of the Greenville Area Development Corp.

Fletcher and Swenson both have economic development experience. Fletcher worked for SCANA Corp. and the state Department of Commerce, and Swenson worked for the Charlotte Regional Partnership.

“They are a great tandem,” said Matt Sy, owner of Comfort Systems of York County who attended Friday’s lunch. “They are a good fit and ambitious.”

Ambition for Swenson means making sure he and his office staff are constantly talking to prospects, convincing them to locate in York County or in Chester, Fairfield or Richland counties, all alliance partners.

Currently, Swenson is pursuing 39 projects that, if every one came to York County, would represent $531 million in investment and 3,273 jobs. Nine projects are possible expansions of current businesses.

Swenson said his office is averaging one new prospect a week.

Ambition for Fletcher means creating more prospects for Swenson and the economic development directors in Chester, Fairfield and Richland counties.

Unlike the state’s seven other regional alliances, the I-77 Alliance’s focus is solely on courting companies. To do that, Fletcher focuses his efforts on companies “with a proven need to grow their southeast markets,” site selectors most companies use to manage their relocation or expansion decisions, and the state Department of Commerce.

On Fletcher’s schedule are 20 events over the next 11 months to tout the benefits of locating on or near Interstate 77.

Among the benefits, he said, are the ability to offer both rural and urban locations, a sound workforce and proximity to a port capable of handling the biggest ships, an international airport with non-stop access to Europe and rail access through Norfolk Southern and CSX plus local service through the Lancaster and Chester Railroad.

The result, Fletcher said, is a new perspective on regionalism, one that should see “York County getting some focus, love from Columbia” and South Carolina “embracing Charlotte and south Charlotte.”